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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Compare the composition of atmospheric air and alveolar air
  • Describe the mechanisms that drive gas exchange
  • Discuss the importance of sufficient ventilation and perfusion, and how the body adapts when they are insufficient
  • Discuss the process of external respiration
  • Describe the process of internal respiration

The purpose of the respiratory system is to perform gas exchange. Pulmonary ventilation provides air to the alveoli for this gas exchange process. At the respiratory membrane, where the alveolar and capillary walls meet, gases move across the membranes, with oxygen entering the bloodstream and carbon dioxide exiting. It is through this mechanism that blood is oxygenated and carbon dioxide, the waste product of cellular respiration, is removed from the body.

Gas exchange

In order to understand the mechanisms of gas exchange in the lung, it is important to understand the underlying principles of gases and their behavior. In addition to Boyle’s law, several other gas laws help to describe the behavior of gases.

Gas laws and air composition

Gas molecules exert force on the surfaces with which they are in contact; this force is called pressure. In natural systems, gases are normally present as a mixture of different types of molecules. For example, the atmosphere consists of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and other gaseous molecules, and this gaseous mixture exerts a certain pressure referred to as atmospheric pressure ( [link] ). Partial pressure ( P x ) is the pressure of a single type of gas in a mixture of gases. For example, in the atmosphere, oxygen exerts a partial pressure, and nitrogen exerts another partial pressure, independent of the partial pressure of oxygen ( [link] ). Total pressure is the sum of all the partial pressures of a gaseous mixture. Dalton’s law    describes the behavior of nonreactive gases in a gaseous mixture and states that a specific gas type in a mixture exerts its own pressure; thus, the total pressure exerted by a mixture of gases is the sum of the partial pressures of the gases in the mixture.

Partial Pressures of Atmospheric Gases
Gas Percent of total composition Partial pressure
(mm Hg)
Nitrogen (N 2 ) 78.6 597.4
Oxygen (O 2 ) 20.9 158.8
Water (H 2 O) 0.04 3.0
Carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) 0.004 0.3
Others 0.0006 0.5
Total composition/total atmospheric pressure 100% 760.0

Partial and total pressures of a gas

The left panel of this figure shows a canister of oxygen. The middle panel shows a canister of nitrogen. The right panel shows a canister containing a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen. A pressure gauge on each container shows the pressure exerted by the gas in that container.
Partial pressure is the force exerted by a gas. The sum of the partial pressures of all the gases in a mixture equals the total pressure.

Partial pressure is extremely important in predicting the movement of gases. Recall that gases tend to equalize their pressure in two regions that are connected. A gas will move from an area where its partial pressure is higher to an area where its partial pressure is lower. In addition, the greater the partial pressure difference between the two areas, the more rapid is the movement of gases.

Solubility of gases in liquids

Henry’s law    describes the behavior of gases when they come into contact with a liquid, such as blood. Henry’s law states that the concentration of gas in a liquid is directly proportional to the solubility and partial pressure of that gas. The greater the partial pressure of the gas, the greater the number of gas molecules that will dissolve in the liquid. The concentration of the gas in a liquid is also dependent on the solubility of the gas in the liquid. For example, although nitrogen is present in the atmosphere, very little nitrogen dissolves into the blood, because the solubility of nitrogen in blood is very low. The exception to this occurs in scuba divers; the composition of the compressed air that divers breathe causes nitrogen to have a higher partial pressure than normal, causing it to dissolve in the blood in greater amounts than normal. Too much nitrogen in the bloodstream results in a serious condition that can be fatal if not corrected. Gas molecules establish an equilibrium between those molecules dissolved in liquid and those in air.

Questions & Answers

name the 5 layers of skin
Monika Reply
stratum basale, stratum spinosum, stratum granulosum, stratum lucidum, stratum corneum
airiz
those are the layers of epidermis,, then we have the dermis which has got two layers that is papillary dermis and reticular dermis.. beneath the dermis we have the hypodermis( subcutaneous layer) which is not considered as a layer of skin
airiz
what's a feedback
ivhil Reply
is the information or comment about something that one have done
Gaston
may be you mean negative or positive feedback mechanism... in general, they mean body response its changes by hormones
Quran
what is endocrin?
Asim Reply
why should there be an inhibition to the process of gastric production in the intestinal phase
Gloria
endocrine is a system through which the secretions of cell directly poured into blood.
Tanveer
why should there be an inhibition to the process of gastric production in the intestinal
Gloria Reply
what is a stimuli
Emily Reply
environment factor that cause a cell to respond
Quran
name the two types of melanin
Laila Reply
deference between RNA and DNA
Ali
.DNA stands for Deoxyribonucleic Acid. The sugar portion of DNA is 2-Deoxyribose.RNA stands for Ribonucleic Acid.  The sugar portion of RNA is Ribose.2.The helix geometry of DNA is of B-Form (A or Z also present).The helix geometry of RNA is of A-Form.3.DNA is a double-stranded molecule consisting o
ryaisha
DNA consists of nucleotide but RNA consists of nucleoside DNA is double standard but RNA is single standard.In DNA at the nitrogen bases adinine,guanine,cytocin and thymine is present but in case of RNA instead of thymine uracil is present.
Tanveer
what are rdna
Budumari
what is a heart
walker Reply
A heart is an organ in the circulatory system that pumps blood throughout the systemic regions
bernard
what is anatomy
Aisha
Anatomy is the study of internal and external structures and the relationship among body parts. (the study of structure).
Tomi
what is the physiology of the heart
nadine
guys help me with a pathophysiology of asthma
Luyando
asthma is a lungs related disorder in which there is difficulty in breathing due to some allergic factors, their is inflamation of alveoli of respiratory part of lungs.also decreases the surface area.
Tanveer
what is meaning of brain strock and its types?
Tanveer
the pathophysiology of asthma is complex and involves airway inflammation and bronchial hyperresponsiveness pathogenesis of asthma
Omkar
skin infection please explain
Hamza Reply
what is malignant melanoma
Akon Reply
cancerous cells 🙄
Sohan
yes benign is non-cancerous malignant is cancerous.
Joseph
that's a simple way of explaining it however you're different processes like mitosis etc a person can be at risk for developing cancer etc
Joseph
you can tell by an unusual growth of a mole, or change in size coloration with melanoma. which is abnormal growth of your squamous cells.
Joseph
Types of wandering connective tissues
Hassan Reply
what are the meaning of skin
PASHALINA Reply
study of external structure of human body is known as anatomy
VINAY Reply
what is Tau?
Vicki Reply
what is sliva
Saqlain Reply
what is gross
Kiran Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11496/1.8
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